Fantasy is one of the most popular and successful genres of all time. From Lord of the Rings to A Game of Thrones, we’ve all loved the mighty heroes and beautiful worlds that fantasy stories offer. However, we’ve got more worlds to explore. In this article, we’ll talk about the most popular types of fantasy sub-genres, what elements they use, and what stories they tell. Check them out!
High fantasy is the most common kind of fantasy sub-genre. The stories take place in fictional worlds, the plots are often lengthy and epic — which is why high fantasies are also often called epic fantasies. Common elements include long journeys, dragons, magicians, medieval societies, and heroes/heroines.
Low fantasy stories take place in the real world, or at least in a world that’s highly similar to the real one. While many people confuse low fantasy for high fantasy minus the magical elements, such stories usually include plenty of magical and supernatural elements. The main characters often discover hidden magical or supernatural elements in the real world.
Best examples: Neverwhere, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Dark or gothic fantasy combines fantastical and horror elements as the main focus of the plot. The horror elements may include ghosts, undead, haunted castles, and other terrifying creatures. Such stories aim to unsettle or inspire fear. Here’s a list with dark fantasy books that you can add to your TBR.
Best examples: The Dark Tower, Coraline, Something Wicked This Way Comes
Grimdark can either be a high or low fantasy that focuses on violence and themes that are amoral, depairing, hopeless, or straight-out dystopian. While high or low fantasies are often heroic and optimistic, grimdark stories are morbid, brutal, and cynical.
Best examples: Daughter of the Blood, Prince of Thorns, A Game of Thrones
Historical fantasies are low fantasies that incorporate fantastical elements into stories set in the real world at a historical period of time. Oftentimes, these stories involve real-world historical figures, real-world mythology, or historical places.
Best examples: King Arthur, The Mist of Avalon, Daughter of the Forest
Magical realism involves stories set in the real world with magical elements that are non-central to the plot. The magical elements’ existence — whether they’re delusions of the main character/s or not — is left unclear. Eschewing many of the usual tropes of fantasies and focusing on super-realistic settings, magical realism is often described as the crossroad between literary fiction and fantasy.
Best examples: Midnight’s Children, Kafka on the Shore, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Paranormal stories often focus on supernatural creatures living in the real world, usually also blending horror and fantasy elements. Meanwhile, paranormal romance focuses on the romantic entanglements of supernatural creatures. Usually, the relationship develops between a supernatural being and a human.
Best examples: Twilight, Fallen, Warm Bodies, Vampire Academy
In urban fantasy, supernatural beings and worlds co-exist with the modern real world. They’re often only accessible through portals, gates, and holes. This sub-genre can be traced back to the 1940s and 1950s among occult detective stories.
Best examples: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Mortal Instruments, Neverwhere, Storm Front
The science fantasy sub-genre combines fantastical elements with science; advanced technology blends with supernatural elements, and tropes from both science fiction and fantasy are present. Stories in this sub-genre are often presented as sci-fi, but the plot contains magical elements that violate real-world physics.
Best examples: Dragonflight, Blightborn, Frankenstein, Nineteen Eighty-Four